Dr. Adib Khouzami

Dr. Adib Khouzami

JOHNSTOWN – Backed by new guidance from two national medical groups, a leading Johnstown obstetrician is now urging all expectant mothers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The new guidance is based on the most up-to-date studies that show the vaccine is safe and effective for women during all stages of pregnancy, said Dr. Adib Khouzami, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Conemaugh Health System.

“I really want to make sure that everybody who is pregnant, or who plans to get pregnant, gets the vaccine,” Khouzami said. “The benefits far outweigh the risk.”

Not only does the vaccine protect the mother against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but there is evidence the baby gets some protection as well from antibodies the mother’s body creates from the vaccine.

“The baby receives some protection because the antibodies do cross the placenta,” Khouzami said. “We’ve seen antibodies in the breast milk, as well. So if the patient is breastfeeding, that’s perfect.”

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists last week published updated recommendations that strongly encourage pregnant women to be vaccinated. The recommendations cite evidence demonstrating the safe use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy from tens of thousands of women over the past several months.

The previous recommendation urged pregnant patients to discuss vaccination with their physician.

Khouzami said he discusses the vaccine with all his patients, but stopped short of encouraging women to get the vaccine because of the ambiguous guidance available.

While there was no reason to think the vaccine would affect pregnant women differently, there were no pregnant women included in the original vaccine trials last year. Therefore, the original guidelines stopped short of including pregnant women, Khouzami explained.

“Now we have the studies to support it,” he said. “I’ve changed the way I present it to my patients. I feel much more comfortable with the new studies.”

Concerns about the vaccine affecting fertility have also been disproved. Earlier this year, a false report was circulating on social media claiming the spike protein on this coronavirus was the same as another spike protein that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The post warned that getting the COVID-19 vaccine could cause the body to fight this natural spike protein and affect a woman’s fertility.

The two spike proteins are completely different and there is plenty of evidence there is no effect on fertility.

If the claim was valid, Khouzami said, the virus’ spike protein would also affect fertility in patients who contract COVID-19. There have been more than 200 million people infected, worldwide, and yet birth rates and fertility rates have not changed.

“That should prove that it has no effect on fertility,” Khouzami said.

But the biggest reason to get the vaccine it to avoid getting seriously ill while pregnant.

Khouzami said about 10% of pregnant women who test positive for COVID-19 end up in the hospital with the illness. That increases the chance of a premature delivery or a Cesarean section.

Although the evidence is still coming in, Khouzami said some studies show higher rates of stillbirth in patients who were seriously ill with COVID-19.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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